Manga and Graphic Novels: What's the Difference?

The differences between manga and anime are as simple as the differences between comics and animated cartoons. Both tell a story. It's just that manga utilizes illustrations and text while anime relies on movement and audible dialogue. And that brings us to manga and graphic novels. They are also different mediums. Do you know the differences between them?


Some contend that the only difference between manga and graphic novels is the direction in which stories are read. But there is a lot more to it than that, beginning with the fact that manga is uniquely Japanese while graphic novels are a Western creation. But even some Western-produced manga actually qualifies as graphic novels by definition.


Direction of the Read


The first and most obvious difference between manga and graphic novels is the direction of reading. Japanese, as a written language, is read from right to left. Therefore, genuine manga is organized the same way. You start at what appears to be the back of the book and work forward, reading each page from right to left and top to bottom.


Western languages like English and Spanish are just the opposite. They read from left to right. Thus, graphic novels are arranged that way. You start at the front of the book and work your way toward the back, reading each page from left to right and top to bottom.


Manga rules are not always altered for Western audiences. For example, some genuine Japanese manga is translated for English speakers yet still reads from right to left. It can be confusing to an American who isn't used to it.


Content and Flow


Two more differences that clearly separate manga and graphic novels are content and flow. In terms of content, manga is very much like anime in the sense that creators are not afraid to delve into topics that would be considered taboo in the West. For example, manga and anime both address sexuality and violence in ways that would be too extreme by Western standards.


Graphic novels tend to be tame by comparison. Some of them can still be fairly violent, but Western culture is a lot more careful about depictions of sexuality. Most graphic novels don't even begin to push the sexuality boundaries that manga and anime routinely cross.


In terms of flow, the story line in any given manga piece flows continuously from beginning to end. On the other hand, graphic novels are meant to be broken up section by section. Perhaps this is due to how Westerners normally read standard novels. We are used to chapter divisions that invite taking breaks.


Comics Are the Common Ground


Despite their differences, manga and graphic novels do have some similarities. Their most visible area of common ground are the illustrations. For example, did you know that 'manga' means 'comics' in Japanese? Likewise, the illustrations that make graphic novels what they are appear very similar to the comics you find in the Sunday newspaper.


The beautiful thing about it all is that there is something for everyone between manga, graphic novels, and anime. You can prefer one over the other two or like all three art forms. Either way, there is enough to keep your imagination captivated for a lifetime.


While you are thinking all of this over, remember that Umai offers a full line of anime apparel, artwork, and phone cases featuring original artwork created by one of our company's founders. If you love all things Japanese, consider giving our store a look. We offer great quality backed up by good prices and exceptional customer service.

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